Claire Holley writes songs that are literary, playful, meditative, and earthy. A native of Mississippi, she owes much to the southern tradition of storytelling, and just as much to the southern tradition of charm, which is to say of knowing how much is too much and how much is enough, of finding just the right blend of mystery and brass, seductiveness and self-deprecation. With spare, delicate arrangements and a frank, lovely, and versatile sound, she sings deceptively simple songs about love, motherhood, and family life. Hers is a value for the ordinary pleasures as well as the profound questions. Both as a lyricist and a singer, Holley is an exemplar of the value of not overdoing it. Though gifted with a mighty voice, she uses it with restraint and without affectation, and her lyrics seem so effortless at first that you can almost miss their weight. Many of her original songs sound like they might be traditionals, with the stripped-down diction of the oldest American music and the beauty of Shaker furniture, but all bear Holley’s distinct stamp: a spareness that is at times eerie, at times sweet, always full of grace.
Native Mississippian Claire Holley began performing and writing songs in college, releasing her first record, Night Air, soon after graduating. In 1999 she made Sanctuary, an inspired recording of traditional hymns. Soon after, Holley signed with Chapel Hill’s indie label, Yep Roc Records, and Performing Songwriter called her Yep Roc debut “straightforward, unabashed, and beautiful.” NPR’s Weekend Edition with Liane Hansen featured this self-titled release as well as Sanctuary in an interview on a national broadcast. Upon moving to the west coast in 2004 she began composing for film and theatre. She was nominated by the 2006 LA Weekly Theatre Awards for Best Original Music for the songs she wrote for “See Rock City,” a play by Arlene Hutton. She also composed music for The Fence, an independent film which received the 2008 UCLA Directors Spotlight Award and was screened June 12, 2008 at the Directors Guild Theater in Los Angeles. Holley has released six records. Her latest, Hush, in the words of one reviewer is “as strong a piece of work as anything Holley has ever released.”
One of the things I’ve been enjoying is collaborating with several other LA-based artists for a monthly gig called Song Sirens. We perform once a month in Sierra Madre, a little town in the mountains just north of Los Angeles. Prior to the gig, we get together, eat soup, hang out, and work up a smattering of favorite soul, rock and roots covers. As one Siren (Kristin Mooney) said, “It’s kinda like a book club without the book.” We perform in a round and harmonize on each other’s songs. One of my favorite parts about this is simply getting together with these women. I think with all the technology of music (emailing and downloading digitally based music) this collaboration has been a getting back to the basics for me: singing good songs and making music together.
I’ve also been co-writing perodically with Saundi Wilson of Red Five Music. I met him because he wanted to do a remix of “Wedding Day.” He has a jazz and hip/hop background, so collaborating gets me out of my comfort zone in terms of the melodies I choose or the chord progressions I gravitate to. I’ve been wanting to do something like this ever since I heard Lauryn Hill’s inspired album: “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” You can hear “Wedding Day Remix” on iTunes.
On April 17, 2009 I am honored to join Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kate Campbell, and Caroline Herring for a concert in association with the Eudora Welty Centennial Celebration in Jackson, Mississippi.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.